What the Church believes, teaches and confesses on the basis of the Word of God is constantly under pressure from forces that would alter the substance of that confession.
The external pressure comes from a world that finds Christian truth claims morally and intellectually unpalatable and coercive.
The internal pressure comes from heretics speaking twisted things. These disfigured beliefs, misshapen orthodoxies, sometimes stem from an attempt to Christianize ideas borrowed from elsewhere. So often this baptizing of human wisdom is then coupled with a faulty exegesis of particular texts and an inadequate synthesis of the entire teaching of Scripture on that particular point.
Faulty but plausible exposition and theologizing helps error gain traction, but we will never come to grips with it unless we ask serious questions about the rectitude of the heart.
And so it is when we come to the doctrine of Hell.
The following is taken from the foreword by David F. Wells to Robert Peterson's excellent work Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment:
It is always important for us to discern why, at a particular time, certain issues come to the fore and engage the church's attention. Usually the reason for this resolves itself into a choice between two options.
Either the issue arises from within the church, as heretical deviations make their way through its life, leaving trouble and confusion in their wake, or the issue arises from without, as the surrounding culture intrudes worldly expectations and appetites upon the church, robbing it of its vision and conviction.
And there is little doubt in my mind that in the case before us, the uniqueness of Christian faith and the reality of God's abiding judgement upon unbelief, it is our modernized and secularized culture that is principally unsettling the church.
It is, admittedly, difficult to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the blurring of the edges of faith that is happening within the church today is being fed by these cultural attitudes. But the awkward fact is that the church, for nineteen hundred years, has believed in the uniqueness of Christ, the truth of the Word, and the necessity of God's judgement on the impenitent; and we have to ask why, in the late twentieth century, some or all of these beliefs now seem to have become so unbelievable.
Is it that new exegetical discoveries now cast doubt upon what the church has always believed? Are there new archaeological finds? Is it that the church has simply misread the Bible and done so consistently over so long a period of time?
No, these truths today have become awkward and disconcerting to hold not because of new light from the Bible but because of new darkness from the culture.